Once-confident English soccer team now on verge of World Cup disappointment

England's fans have watched their squad struggle to draws with the United States and Algeria.
England's fans have watched their squad struggle to draws with the United States and Algeria. (Michael Regan/getty Images)
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By Liz Clarke
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, June 23, 2010

JOHANNESBURG -- The British press positively chortled when FIFA unveiled the draw for the 2010 World Cup last December, with England placed in Group C alongside Slovenia, Algeria and the United States.

"The best English group since the Beatles!" crowed the Sun, capturing the pervasive sentiment that such soccer lightweights posed no threat to the country that takes credit for inventing the game, and instead were mere formalities before the 32-team field was culled to 16.

But following a 1-1 draw with a dogged U.S. squad and a stunningly flat, scoreless performance against Algeria, England may be out of the World Cup before it faces its first global power.

And that very prospect -- after the Three Lions' first two outings produced zero victories, one goal and two draws -- touched off outrage and dread in a soccer-mad nation that has pointed to South Africa as the likely setting for England's first World Cup championship in 44 years.

"A disgrace to our country!" posted one reader on the Times of London's Web site following the scoreless draw against Algeria.

"Soul-destroyingly bad," moaned another.

"In any other walk of life they would all be fired or the company would go down the swanny," one fan groused about the squad.

Lamented another, "What is 'England' anymore?"

England hasn't been bounced in the first round of a World Cup since 1958. To avoid such a fate in South Africa, England must beat Slovenia on Wednesday in Port Elizabeth or earn a tie and hope the Americans falter in their equally high-stakes meeting with Algeria in Pretoria.

How did things go so wrong for a team laden with some of the most handsomely compensated soccer stars in the world?

Fabio Capello, England's exacting Italian coach, suggested that "pressure" was to blame after the toothless showing against Algeria.

Wayne Rooney, the beefy striker who many predicted would contend for the Golden Boot, awarded the World Cup's most prolific scorer, took a sarcastic swipe at England's fans after they booed the squad as players trudged off the pitch that night.

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